Torch editorial staff responds to DNAinfo and Gothamist shutdowns

By Editorial Staff

Screen Shot 2017-11-05 at 2.06.47 PM

Photo courtesy of DNAinfo

Late last week, DNAinfo and Gothamist (which includes the hyper-local news outlet Chicagoist) were abruptly shut down. The owner and CEO of the websites, Joe Ricketts, decided virtually overnight to shut down the websites after writers decided to vote to unionize the week prior. In September of this year, Ricketts published a blog explaining why he is against unions for businesses he’s created.

It feels like Ricketts ended operations because he does not want to give a voice to his own employees. The New York Times reported in April that a quarter of the editorial staff at DNAinfo had been laid off, which pushed talks to join a union even further.

“I believe unions promote a corrosive us-against-them dynamic that destroys the espirit de corps businesses need to succeed,” Ricketts said in his blog. While unions do serve a purpose, Ricketts is saying there is no need for them in his businesses. Ricketts said this “corrosive dynamic” makes no sense, primarily concerning himself with the money aspect over the welfare of his own employees.

Ricketts mentioned in his blog that he is not interested in a company if the owner and employees are not working on the same page. So instead of reaching a compromise, which a union serves to do, Ricketts finds it easier to simply throw it away – or it at least that’s how it seems.

In a letter posted to DNAinfo Chicago and the Chicagoist, Ricketts said the the decision to shut down the websites was not one he took lightly, and that the primary reason for doing so was that the websites weren’t bringing in enough revenue to be sustainable, despite the fact that the websites are visited by over 9 million people a month.

It seems suspicious to close down a website that was attracting so much traffic across multiple platforms and cities to close its doors so suddenly without notice.

In his letter, Ricketts said that he invested in DNAinfo and Gothamist during a time when not very many people were investing in media companies. The question remains that if he knew that it was a risk to invest in a media company, why would he shut a company down that he had invested so much money in that had so large a reach? Considering that Ricketts was the founder of TD Ameritrade, a stock brokerage firm, and is worth $1 billion, it’s hard to wrap one’s head around that he would expect a news outlet to make as much money, making the shutdown of the websites seem like it was out of spite.

On top of the reporters and editors suddenly losing their jobs, according to NPR, an official at DNAinfo said content on the websites would be pulled and archives would essentially be wiped. Writers were concerned they would lose access to the work they had written, but of the time being, they are still accessible.

As young journalists, it is upsetting so see two major news outlets in the city shut down so suddenly. Since both DNAinfo Chicago and Chicagoist covered local news in a way that larger news outlets like the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun Times did not, they were invaluable sources of local news for Chicagoans. Ricketts’ decision not only affected the reporters and editors, but the people of Chicago and democracy as a whole.

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